Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Being the News Isn’t Our Goal, but When We Are, It’s Appropriate To Give the Rest of the Story

Yes2Rail became the news yesterday. That’s never our intention, but now that it’s happened, today’s post is a response.
I’m a member of the rail project’s public involvement team and have been writing this blog since 2008. Today’s post is number 770 in the series, and I can only guess about the number of words in this space, but they’re in the high hundreds of thousands.

Yes2Rail is one of many tools the team uses to provide information about the rail project to the public – how it will work, the communities it will serve, its benefits, its speed, its cost and on and on.

The rail project obviously isn’t being planned and built in a vacuum.  For a representative sampling of rail opponents’ commentaries and criticisms of the project, you can click on the “aggregation site” link in the right-hand column.

This being an election year, rail is the biggest issue in the mayoral race. As proposals have been floated to kill the rail project and replace it with other transportation plans, such as bus rapid transit, managed lanes and/or at-grade rail, Yes2Rail has commented on those plans.

My commentaries have compared BRT and the other proposed modes to elevated rail. When those comparisons have been unfavorable, I’ve said so. For example, my primary criticism of BRT is that buses inarguably must eventually be reintroduced to and delayed by street-level traffic congestion – something elevated rail will never experience.

Criticizing those alternatives to rail is not the same as criticizing the proponents. There’s a difference, and while I respect the viewpoint of those who think they’re the same, I have to disagree.

As a former City Hall reporter for the Honolulu Advertiser, I write Yes2Rail from a journalist’s perspective. These commentaries also have addressed the media’s apparent reluctance to ask the questions that need asking about the so-called alternatives to rail transit.

As early as January, Yes2Rail noted that details about the alternative transportation proposals were virtually non-existent, so it was impossible to truly understand how BRT, for example, could be better than Honolulu’s elevated rail system.

Eventually, even the Star-Advertiser wondered the same and printed an editorial (subscription) calling for those details to be released. You're invited to read Yes2Rail's post about this editorial.

Yes2Rail serves an educational function by making comparisons between competing transportation systems. If those competing systems have glaring deficiencies compared to rail, I say so.

That’s not the same as criticizing the messenger, which seems to be what Yes2Rail is experiencing now. I hope that clears up some of the concern about this blog and why I write it.


Roy Kamisato said...

For the record I am in no way connected with the Honolulu transit project. Just a concerned citizen who is trying to understand the facts through the fog of politicians and newspaper columnist who have there own agendas. The root of the problem is a media which gives equal footing to deliberate half truths and the actual truth. This puts pressure on honest politicians to become very political. I have no problem with politicians asking about public expenditures. It is their duty to do so even if their motives are political. And just for the record my posts are not political and only reflect my opinion. And I approve this message.

Anonymous said...

I might have less sympathy for spending on providing public information if the reporters and commentators hadn't done such a piss-poor job on rail for so long, continuing with the naive approach to this political dog and pony show by a few council members seeking re-election or higher office. Groan....

Doug Carlson said...

Yes -- that's pretty much what it was, an attention-getting, politics-inspired media play. Unfortunately, it worked. HART's public involvement team didn't enjoy much if any backing from above despite its exceptional success (see this blog's final post on 8/13/12), and two weeks to the day after the above post, nearly the entire team was notified of its impending termination. We may not have survived the contretemps as individuals, but the rail project did, and that's what counts.